Tonight, as I walked from the main cabin to the Wee House, the wind was howling.
It sounded like a freight train, circling around our “40.”
I stopped along my spring snow trail, secured my winter hat and listened.
Closing my eyes in the dark, I relied on one of my five senses to capture the full moment.
My two canine companions also stopped.
I have no doubt our trilogy of horses also had their eyes fixed on us, in the dark cloudy night.
The wind made me think back to my former life, 40 miles north on Little Traverse Bay, in Petoskey.
As a child, I was always a stone’s throw from the Bay, and the mouth of the Bear River.
In my later years, as I raised my filmmaker and golfer sons, we also lived near the Bay. The first thing I did in the morning was look out our front window and view the water, sprinkled with various boats, visible from the hill we lived upon.
It was as if I was drawn to it – from my childhood – from many, many days spent near the water and on the water.
My mind would always go back. Back to my childhood ... when my Dad, who was so dear to me, was still alive.
I was a fisherwoman. A lover of the sport.
A lover of Nature.
Following in my father’s footsteps.
While my other teenage friends were hanging posters of Rod Stewart and The Who, I hung full page pictures carefully torn from Field & Stream or Outdoor Life. Coho’s, Dolly Vardens, Brookies, Steelhead.
My favorite, the Steelhead.
I took pride in stumping the high school boys with the question, “What’s the difference between a Steelhead and a Rainbow trout?” Only the purists knew ...
I also knew a Swedish Pimple wasn’t something that appeared on your face one morning.
Yes, I was a fisherwoman.
And then things began to change. Slowly, it became more difficult for me.
The loss of life.
He would not give up. From the instant he felt the prick of the lure sink in the side of his pink fleshy mouth, he displayed unbelievable strength. He startled me as my pole suddenly doubled over and began a spasmodic jerking. At this, my Dad cut the boat’s motor and raised his pipe in a toast of his approval. The battle with my most respected fish, the Steelhead Trout, had begun.
The morning sun crept above the horizon moments earlier, displaying to us a sample of the beautiful day that lay ahead. This morning, as always when on the Bay, I relished the early morning stillness. The only interruption was the sound of the tiny beads of water dripping from my line as I pumped my Shakespeare “Back Country Special” (with my coveted #2052 reel), bringing the trout closer. The rocky bottom was visible as the cold water rippled off the sides of the aluminum boat while gliding to a standstill within sight of the shoreline of Lake Michigan.
Across the boat, I could see the steam rise from my Dad’s old red plaid fishing thermos as he poured himself a second cup of strong black coffee. The sun now reflected off the lures imbedded within my father’s old, well worn fishing hat that sat firmly on his head in the cool morning breeze. Only hours earlier he knocked softly on my bedroom door signaling it was time to substitute my warm flannel sheets for the long underwear I had laid out the night before. I now regretted that I chose to sacrifice a hearty breakfast for a few scant moments of sleep, as the blend of the aroma of my father’s pipe and the stench of the fish he had previously caught were causing my empty stomach to turn. We remained in silence, as if not to allow spoken words to disturb the communion we shared with our surroundings.
As I eyed the frigid, clear water, I half expected to see the fish lash the surface and face another element unknown to him. My ungloved fingers were growing numb from the cold as I reeled him closer. Sixteen-year-old girls who rise at dawn to sit out on an open body of water should not worry themselves with wardrobe, only warmth.
I was now getting anxious to land the fish, as I had waited all morning for this moment. As the fish neared the boat, I could sense his loss of stamina as the line grew slack. I knew I must keep the line taut, as by now he had most likely worn a hole in the side of his mouth and the lure could slip from its hold. Suddenly, without warning, my line peeled out as the Steelhead made a final effort of retrieval and displayed to us the acrobatic tendencies for which he is famous. I let him use all his strength, then brought him in, to the side of the boat. The net was poised in the water, waiting. I spied him gliding on his side as I drew him near. Straining my eyes to get a better look, I could see a companion fish was with him, very near, as if sensing his fate. It dashed off with a flick of the tail as the hooked fish was scooped into the net and placed on the floor of the boat. I watched, mesmerized, in awe of his beauty. My Dad casually dealt the fish a solid blow from a small wooden club, my silver lure was removed, and the fish was gently lifted from the net. He lay still, next to me on the cold seat of the boat. His wet, silver side glistened in the sun that now warmed the morning air. His gills opened and closed, frantically gasping the air for life. Then, as if in final defiance, he gave one last flip, landing in the dirty leaves and rainwater that covered the boat’s floor. There he lay, bending and flipping as if he were free to swim away. My fascination was broken as my Dad shouted, “Good job, Kiddo!” before starting the boat’s engine to begin trolling again.
The magnificent trout, left to die this way. I turned my eyes away as the boat began its course, but not before rainwater splashed on my face and mingled with my tears.
Until tomorrow ~ wishing my fisherman Dad were here ~ God willing,
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